You’ve heard of godparents. You’ve heard of sponsors (another name for godparents, more usually used at Confirmation, so “sponsor” includes both sacraments and is commonly used officially by the church). You may know that sponsors/godparents must be practicing Catholics in good standing who can give good example to the person they sponsor for a sacrament.
What you may or may not know is that, until recently, many parishes required proof of that good standing as a Catholic in various different ways. And it was causing confusion.
So recently our diocese adopted a uniform policy regarding sponsors for baptism and confirmation. (The “best man” and “maid of honor” at weddings are not sponsors but witnesses, so that’s different. They need not even be Catholic. But back to baptisms and confirmations.) Now when a person is invited to serve as a sponsor he or she must sign a statement that says, in the key part:
In assuming this responsibility, I testify that:
Understanding the role of sponsor as prescribed by the Church and aware of the obligations and responsibilities of this role, I attest that I am willing and able to accept the role of sponsor in the Catholic Church.
By my signature, I solemnly swear that I fulfill all of the requirements to be a sponsor as described above. I attest to the truth of this statement, so help me God.
Here’s the thing that’s causing some confusion: The to-be sponsor must then sign this statement in the presence of an official witness. That means stopping by some church office with the diocesan form so that the signature can be witnessed. (It need not be the church where the baptism or confirmation is to take place; any Catholic church can witness the signature. Just as with a notary in civil matters, the church is not attesting to the truth of the statements – only to the fact that the person signing is making them.)
(Also note that it’s the sponsors who make these attestations, not the parents. The parents have a different obligation, and it’s addressed separately.)
So here’s how it works: Baby Jane’s parents (who live, let’s say, in OLOG) have invited George and Martha to serve as sponsors for the baptism. George lives in St. Ethelred’s in Washington State; Martha, in St. Swithin’s in our diocese. Baby Jane’s parents get two copies of the sponsor form from OLOG (or any parish in the diocese) and mail them to George and to Martha. George goes to St. Ethelred’s (or another convenient parish where he lives) and signs his copy in the presence of an authorized person (priest, deacon, or parish staff member); Martha does the same in her own neighborhood. They then send the forms back to Baby Jane’s parents, who bring or send them to OLOG.
This may sound complicated, and (since we at OLOG didn’t require written attestations before this diocesan policy came into force) it is an extra step. But the diocesan leadership believes it’s necessary, for two reasons. First, some parishes were requiring of sponsors things that weren’t required by church law; that was unfair. Second, the different ways parishes were certifying sponsors as appropriate were confusing. So a uniform policy that is in accord with the church’s understanding of the role of a sponsor is a good solution which I support.
Note that the burden of conscience is put on the sponsor-to-be: she or he attests to having received the proper sacraments and to living in harmony with the teachings of the Church. The parish doesn’t check its records or need any “proof” other than the person’s signature to the oath. Until next week, peace.